Welcome to the Dundas Valley Historical Society

Here we are at the beginning of Spring, and the last Speaker’s Series of the season will be held on April 13 at the Dundas Museum and Archives (139 Park St W). Admission is free, and the presentation will begin at 7:00 pm sharp.

The Dundas Valley Historical Society welcomes Mrs Lan Whiting for a presentation about the Kids for Kaga initiative.  This should interest some of you as you may already know of some young people who were involved in this program.

KIDS for KAGA: A First Twinning of the East and West

In 1967, at the urging of Dundas resident Dr. Hanna Newcombe (1922-2011), co-founder of the Peace Research Institute, and with support of Dundas Town Council, then Mayor Leslie Couldrey invited Kaga, Japan to form a Twin-City relationship becoming the first-ever twinning through the United Nations Mundialization Program. In 1970, Dundas school teacher Ms. Julie Ashcroft as head chaperone led a group of 32 students and chaperones on the first of many student exchanges over the past 50+ years. In the following year, 46 Kaga students and chaperones arrived in Dundas for the first return visit. These exchanges continue to this very day.

On April 13th join us when members of Dundas’ Kids for Kaga organization take us on an informative and visual adventure.

As previously communicated, we will begin collecting membership fees for the 2023-2024 season at the April 13th meeting.
The Board of Directors have decided that the current membership fees for the upcoming season are as follows:
Students $5.00 per year
Individuals $8.00 per year
Family   $12.00 per year

We ask that you bring correct/exact funds or cheques (made payable to the Dundas Valley Historical Society) in the appropriate amounts to this meeting. We will be set up in the Museum lobby for this purpose.

If there is any change to your current contact information, please present a note to the Executive member at the time of renewal and we will update our records.

NOTE:   Starting in September, the email notification regarding the September 14th Speakers Series will come from a new email address, dvhsmembership1[at]yahoo.com.  Please be sure to add this address to your Safe Contact list so you don’t miss a meeting.

We look forward to seeing you!

Next Presentation:  Thursday March 9 at 7pm.  Free admission.

On March 9, the Dundas Valley Historical Society’s monthly Speaker’s Night is pleased to welcome author and retired RCMP Sergeant Paulette Breau for a presentation on the history of the RCMP.

Paulette’s talk shall not only outline the history of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police but also provide personal insight regarding her own experiences and  inform us of changes that are ongoing within the force.

Her thirty-year policing career started in Niagara Falls working on street level drug enforcement, mainly as an undercover police officer.   In 1993, Paulette transferred to the Hamilton Detachment and worked in several units including Drugs, Federal Enforcement, and the Fraud unit.  In 1999, she was transferred to the London Training Branch and in 2004 moved to the Ottawa Learning and Development Branch.   Paulette returned to Southern Ontario in 2007 by way of London Headquarters until 2013 when she was seconded to teach at the Ontario Police College.

Retirement in 2017 after thirty years with the RCMP began a new chapter in her life when she authored her memoirs about her own RCMP experience in a book called “Never at Ease”.  This new endeavour has led to numerous speaking and public appearances, and the DVHS is very pleased to welcome Retired Sgt Breau to join us at the Dundas Museum and Archives at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday March 9.

Paulette will have copies of her book available for purchase and signing at $20 each.  Note that all proceeds from book sales go to the National Service Dogs, an organisation that trains Service Dogs to assist children diagnosed with autism and their families as well as to assist Canadian Veterans and First Responders living with long-term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Next Presentation:  Thursday February 9 at 7pm.  Free admission.

Dundas At The Charge Crimean DVHS Poster

For February’s presentation, we’ll be going from the Dundas Valley to the “Valley of Death”!  Dundas Museum Exhibitions Curator Austin Strutt will be exploring some of the fascinating and unexpected connections between the Town of Dundas and the Crimean War of 1853-1856.  Learn the stories of veterans who settled in the Valley Town.  Hear the colourful history of the Town Hall Cannon.  And see how local place names were influenced by the conflict.  Join us February 9th for an all new historical presentation “Dundas At The Charge!”

Next Presentation: Thursday January 12 at 7pm.  

“Hidden in Plain Sight: Surprising Stories About Niagara’s 1800s Swing Beam Barns.”


The DVHS is taking December off, but we’ll meet again in January with a presentation on swing beam barns, an especially impressive type of 19th century wooden barn.  An example from West Flamborough is pictured above.  The meeting will be on Thursday January 12 at Dundas Museum and Archives (139 Park St. W).  The presentation starts at 7:00 pm, and admission is free.

The presentation is “Hidden in Plain Sight: Surprising Stories About Niagara’s 1800s Swing Beam Barns” by Hugh Fraser, an enthusiastic expert and author on old barns.

Swing beam barns were built for the wheat industry between about 1820 and 1870 in Upper Canada, Canada West, then Ontario.  Although they were built all over the Province, the majority of barns still standing are in the Niagara, Haldimand, and Hamilton areas.  The unique feature was the huge wooden swing beam, which provided a wide open-concept area for farmers to thresh wheat with a flail on the threshing floor.  Some swing beams were mammoth with cross-sections of 24 inches by 12 inches.  In the picture above, the swing beam runs above the (non-original) fridge and bar.

Hugh Fraser is from a dairy, has worked with farmers his entire career, and continues to work with them in semi-retirement.  He also is a director with a relatively new non-profit organization called Ontario Barn Preservation.  His book about 50 swing beam barns in the Niagara area is 275 pages of colourful photos, schematics, and engaging stories about the barns’ historical owners.  Copies will be available for $65 (tax included).

The DVHS resumes Monthly Meetings!

After more than two years of withdrawing from the public scene due to Covid, the Dundas Valley Historical Society shall be resuming our regular meetings and presentations this September at the Dundas Museum and Archives located at 139 Park St. W, in downtown Dundas Ontario. 

The September meeting shall be held:

Thursday September 8, 2022

Meeting/Presentation commences at 7:00 pm
Admission is Free

A fascinating presentation of the past as revealed through our cemeteries shall be related by local historian and storyteller Robin McKee. Robin is well known throughout the area for his various themed tours through the historic Hamilton Cemetery. We encourage you to enjoy and share his knowledge about early settlers such as Robert Land and George Hamilton, victims of the Desjardins Railway Disaster and more.

The DVHS welcomes your attendance and looks forward to seeing returning members as well as former and new friends. Historical Society Membership Forms for the upcoming 2022 – 2023 Season shall be available at the door for those interested in continuing to support the DVHS and its activities!

Society Update 

Like many if not most organisations, the Dundas Valley Historical Society (DVHS) has been impacted in many ways by the onset of Covid 19.

Consequently, in compliance with Government Regulations and respecting good judgement, our plans and schedule for the upcoming new 2020-2021 Season have been seriously impacted. In short, please note:

  • We shall be delaying our Membership Drive and Renewals until toward the end of this year. Those members in good standing for the 2019-2020 Membership Year will continue to receive the Quarterly Newsletter and updates by e-mail. Further information shall also appear on this website as it becomes available.
  • The Speakers that were lined up for the new season have expressed interest in still addressing our group; however, until such time as it is safe to congregate without the 2-metre distancing rule, it is unlikely that an appropriate venue shall be available. Hopefully we can meet again at the Dundas Museum in January but that has yet to be determined. We shall provide related information as the situation unfolds.
  • The 2019-2020 Annual General Meeting of members was conducted on August 6, 2020 and your new Executive Council was elected. All the Councillors were incumbents from the previous year and hence all responsibilities and duties continue to be fulfilled without interruption.

We look forward to another good year for the DVHS, even if it is with a delayed start!

Introduction to Runaway Train

by Philip Lomax

Mr. Carl Riff is a dedicated railway researcher and historian who deserves credit for the following article as he provided copies of the original newspaper accounts and the basic storyline. Although we choose not to glorify or romanticize railway accidents, those of us living in the Valley Town or Valley are well aware of the railway traffic on the Canadian National Railway line wending its way along the escarpment cliffs. I have been asked sometimes about any incidents that occurred on “The Copetown Hill” and the following article details one of these. The time frame is in the 1920’s when the C.N.R used to haul an average of 600,000 tons of iron ore annually from Point Edward to Stelco in Hamilton along the Dundas Subdivision of the CNR.

Runaway Train – June 20, 1923

View of Engine_Stopped

Just before eleven in the morning, on June 20th, 1923, a heavy freight train of fifty hopper cars carrying about 4000 tons of iron ore from the Samia ore dock was east-bound for the Steel Company of Canada’s blast furnaces at Hamilton Ontario. The train was hauled by a big Grand Trunk Mikado 2-8-2 steam engine, No. 562. Even though the railway had been taken over by Canadian National by this time, the locomotive and tender still proudly bore the Grand Trunk Railway’s lettering and numbering. The Sarnia crew consisted of Engineer Firth, Fireman J. Hamilton, Conductor Leslie and Brakemen S. F. Smith and C. Foster. After successfully descending the steep mainline grade from Copetown to Dundas, the long, heavy train slowed and stopped at the Dundas station, uncoupled and picked up some more hopper cars of stone from the Canada Crushed Stone spur.

It then pulled away from the Dundas sidings to make its final run into the city; however, Engineer Firth soon realized something was wrong with the air brakes and with alarm found that the brake system absolutely refused to work. The heavy freight began to gain speed as it headed eastbound down the grade. Later reports stated that the train was going nearly sixty miles per hour down the mountain! Engineer Firth pluckily stuck to his post, reversing the engine, slamming at the brake valve, giving it sand and sounding the whistle. This was now a runaway train!

Nothing seemed to slow the black mammoth. At the Hamilton West Junction, the switches were thrown by the control tower crew which aligned the runaway for Hamilton. Miraculously, the speeding train made it past the Hamilton Junction, through the Canadian Pacific Railway crossover, over the Desjardins Canal and it careened into the west end of the Hamilton Canadian National Railway freight yard. Up ahead was the Hamilton Stuart Street station and on the mainline in front of the station was another freight train just starting to pull out. Fireman Hamilton jumped from the engine cab just before No.562 side-swiped the other train, flinging N0.562 and its tender around and at right angles to each other before stopping on the adjacent track. It is said that the sound of the violent collision was heard for hundreds of yards.

Apart from wooden freight cars that were left as piles of kindling, thirteen of the large hopper cars were piled on top of each other with their loads of iron ore thrown all over the tracks. The pilot of the engine was torn off. A large section of the track was completely destroyed and even the rails of steel were broken in numerous places. Many railwaymen claimed this was the worst and most destructive accident to have ever occurred here.

R. S. Brooke— Dundas’ First Photographic Images

by Stan Nowak

This article was first published October 10th, 2003 in the Dundas Star News
Reproduced with permission of the author.

Back in the 1850s, King Street was a mud road, and there were hitching posts  along the board sidewalks. ‘The Checkered Grocery’ (today’s Char-broil Restaurant) at King Street and Miller’s Lane was a dominant downtown feature with its unique wall pattern.

Can you just imagine it? Well, you can do more than just imagine it—you can see it. On a fine day in 1856, a gentleman stood on the corner of King Street and Sydenham Road, looked east towards Hamilton, and did a remarkable thing—he took a photograph. That photograph, taken by R.S. Brooke, is acknowledged as one of the earliest, if not the earliest known photographs of our town.


Brooke was the first photographer to set up shop in Dundas. What he photographed in 1856, and for over thirty years afterward, is recorded for posterity in our historical periodicals, local museum, library, and some local businesses (like the Collins F&B Warehouse).

“He was the first to introduce the ambrotype to this part of the province” (Dundas True Banner: January 24, 1862). An ambrotype was a less expensive alternative to the daguerreotype, and it became the dominant form of photographic portraiture in the 1850s. Basically, it is an underexposed negative on glass, that was mounted on a black background to give a positive illusion. By 1862, he was working with both ambrotype and photographs.

Richard Sarly Brooke was born in 1828, Yorkshire, England. He arrived in Dundas in 1855 after military service in South Africa. He billed himself as a ‘photographic artist’ from 1856–1887. His studio—”R.S. Brooke’s Portrait Rooms”—was on the north side of King Street, just three doors east of Sydenham Road, although some advertising of the time lists his location right at the corner of King and Sydenham, where the Bank of Montreal is situated today.

From 1887–1896, he was a manufacturer of nitrous oxide, or ‘laughing gas’, which he claimed to have invented, but this is highly unlikely, since the uses of nitrous oxide are documented well before Mr. Brooke’s time.

During his lifetime, he also sold sewing machines for the New England Sewing Machine
Company, and was an optometrist’s assistant. Mr. Brooke died on September 28, 1896 and is buried, with his wife Elizabeth, in Grove Cemetery. His legacy is the photographic record which captures the early images of Dundas from less than a decade after town incorporation to twenty years after Confederation.